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Deacons and Their Wives (Part 1 of 2)

Truth for Life / Alistair Begg
The Truth Network Radio
May 24, 2023 4:00 am

Deacons and Their Wives (Part 1 of 2)

Truth for Life / Alistair Begg

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May 24, 2023 4:00 am

Are the spiritual requirements and functions the same for deacons and elders? Is one role more important than the other? Can a church have one without the other? Explore the answers to these questions along with Alistair Begg on Truth For Life.



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Is there a difference in the Bible between deacons and elders? Is there a distinction in their spiritual requirements and functions?

Is one role more important than the other? Can a church have one without the other? Alistair Begg provides answers to these questions today on Truth for Life. He's continuing our study in 1 Timothy. One Timothy chapter 3 and verse 8 is where we resume our studies here in this portion of Scripture as we're looking at the nature of the church as Paul provides Timothy with instruction concerning how things are to be conducted within the household of God. We discover a twofold pattern for the official ministry of the church.

One group, the elders, the episcopoi, are responsible for the oversight and care of the church, and this other group, the diaconoi, are responsible for the service elements that emerge from the elders' jurisdiction. This is something that we find developing in the New Testament, and the emphasis on this twofold aspect is not as often as we might have anticipated. I think this is largely due to the fact that the great concern—which is an understandable concern on the part of the apostles—was simply that the right kind of leadership, rule, care, oversight and instruction would be present amongst the companies of God's people as they were established.

But we do have hints of this twofold dimension. For example, in the greeting that Paul gives to the church at Philippi, when he writes to them, he writes there to all the saints that are in Christ Jesus, namely all the members of the church, along or together with the overseers and the deacons. And what I want to do this morning is consider this with you, and I'd like to ask and seek to answer four straightforward questions. First question is simply this. What is the relationship between elders and deacons? The answer to that will not be a new one to those of us who've been around for a while.

It will simply reinforce things we know. But for some of us who may never have thought this through, you may want to note this and consider it at your leisure. Well, first of all, we notice that elders and pastors are given to the church for the spiritual direction, the rule, care, and teaching of God's people. That in the purpose of God, some are responsible for the leadership of others, while all are responsible to the leadership of Christ through his Word. And so, elders are set to the task of ruling, caring, shepherding, providing direction, and instruction. Deacons are those to whom specific tasks of service are assigned.

And indeed, the verb diakona is there in the Scriptures, not always translated in the official way as a deacon but often simply translated as a servant, because the role of a deacon is simply that which their name connotes—namely, the role of service. Now, the early division in the church is seen, as I said to you, in a number of areas. Interestingly, the pattern—although not the designation of initial deacons, I don't think—is provided for as in Acts chapter 6, where, in a familiar passage—if you turn to it, you will see it before you—in Acts chapter 6, there was a pressing and practical need for the apostles to make sure that they did not give up the primary task which was theirs—namely, to give themselves to prayer and the preaching of the Word of God. And so, in order to deal with the practical matters which were before them, and primarily as it had to do with the distribution of food to various widows in the burgeoning church, then these seven men were set apart to this responsibility. They were men, according to verse 3, who were to be full of the Spirit and of wisdom. Now, some people will say that these are the first deacons in the church. And we understand why they would say that.

I don't believe they are. Because there is no formalized structure at this point as the church develops. I think what we can say with conviction is that what these individuals were set apart to do established a pattern which was then developed as the church grew—namely, that there were to be those within the congregation who would not neglect the preaching and teaching and praying for the congregation, the watching and the warning and the leading and the feeding, that in order to facilitate their giving themselves to that, there were to be these individuals who were set apart to this servant responsibility. And that's why, incidentally, as the church grows, you find occasions where there are elders with no deacons, as in Titus chapter 1 verse 5, but you will not find occasions where there are deacons with no elders.

Because the apostles understood that the primary need was for the church to be brought under the jurisdiction of godly men set apart to the responsibility of nurturing and guiding the congregation. When we think about the relationship between them distinguishing, on the one hand, between teaching and caring and providing direction and the servant arm of the church, it's imperative that we think, not again in terms of status—i.e., you know, if you become an elder, that's the sort of big one, and if you become a deacon, that's the little one—but rather to think in terms of service. And when we think in terms of service, then we realize that the distinction between these men becomes immediately a distinction of function and not a distinction of value, in the same way that we said our husband and wife are equal but different. They share equality before God, the wife is not inferior to her husband, but she has to take a position under her husband as given her by God.

The man is not superior, but he has just been given a different function. In the same way, when you think of elders and deacons within the church and how they relate to one another, if a church understands that the issue is service and not status, then they will be so better helped than many places where that is misunderstood. I can think of lots of places, without mentioning them specifically, where the issue of leadership within a church is total chaos.

It is disruption, and it is confusion. And it is not helped by the fact that these congregations often have myriad terms and committees and bits and pieces for which they can find no peculiar explanation in the New Testament. So for example, you will read their constitution, and it says, the trustees do this and the trustees do that. And you say to them, well, what do the trustees actually do? And they will say, well, they're actually the elders of the church. Depending on how gracious you want to be, you're going to say, well, why don't you call them the elders of the church? Where do you come up with a trustees idea? Or you go in certain Baptist churches, and there they have deacons, and when they come to the section on elders, they just jump over that, they say, we don't have elders, we just have deacons, but the deacons are elders, and so on, and it's just total chaos. So people read the Bible, they say, I don't know how any of this works.

Therefore, we must labor hard to understand the distinction between them as well as the way in which they complement one another. The responsibility of eldership is a lifetime responsibility. The responsibility of deaconship is, in most cases, limited in its timeframe.

And it makes perfect sense. Because whereas the task of an eldership is lifelong, it never ends. You never end being a father. You never cease to be a father. But you may cease to be a taker out of garbage cans, because that gets delegated. You may cease to be a carpenter, but you will remain a father.

You may cease to perform a certain function, but you will remain a father. In the same way, eldership is lifelong in its responsibility, whereas deaconship lasts only as long as a specific function is being fulfilled. The deacons are to be an extension of the heart and the hands and the mind of the elders in response to practicalities.

That's why I say again that Acts 6 is a good pattern, albeit not a formalized diaconate. The thing that cannot, must not ever happen is that deacons are established in a local congregation as an independent, parallel institution, as a form of checks and balances, a la the Congress and the Senate. And I go and speak in various churches, and they will explain their structure of leadership to me in just those terms. Well, we have the elders, but just in case the elders get out of hand, we have the deacons, and they hold the elders in check. You know, we send it between committee and committee. Well, I understand why we would want to ensure that the elders don't get out of check, but that's not the role of the deacons. Because the deacons are to be the serving arm hands of the shepherds of the congregation.

Now, we can say more, but we won't. That's the first question. What is the relationship between them? It's close, it's complementary, it's a distinction of function, it's not a distinction of value. Secondly, what are the requirements necessary to serve as a deacon? Who should serve as a deacon? Well, interestingly, as you will note from this list, there is a great similarity between what an elder is to look like and what a deacon is to look like in terms of character. But of course, that should be no surprise, because the characteristics for both elders and deacons are to be the characteristics that are the identifying features of those who truly walk with Christ. In other words, elders and deacons are not called to bear testimony to a whole different kind of lifestyle that is not part and parcel of the congregation. All of the congregation is called to be conformed to the image of Christ, and those who serve in leadership or in servant roles should inevitably carry with them a sense of the quality of their lives so that they're not open to disrepute and abuse. Now, what I want to do is give you seven words, all that begin with S, which summarize the characteristics of serving as a deacon. Number one, a deacon is to be serious.

Where do you get that from? Well, the phrase, worthy of respect, is translated in the King James Version, grave. It is translated in the New King James Version, reverent, and it is obvious. When someone serves in the responsibility of the church and has any function, whatever that may be, however menial it may be regarded as by some, it is not to be the basis of flippancy or silliness, but it is to be conducted with gravity. That is going to be a sense of privilege and reverence in going about the task. For a year of my life, I worked as a cleaner handyman, with the emphasis on cleaner rather than handyman.

If you doubt that, check with my wife. But I was a cleaner, and I was a jolly good cleaner. And the reason I was was because I determined that if cleaning was my name, then cleaning was my game. And I had the responsibility, first thing every morning around seven, to clean the entranceway for a college of education. It had large, large doors with two plate glass windows in them, brass handles and huge brass key locks. It had a slate floor. It had flowers laid up on three tiers, and it sparkled by seven-thirty. You say, Well, you're pretty proud of that, aren't you?

Yes, I am. It wasn't much of a job, but it was my job. And it gave me great satisfaction to make the glass look as though there had never been a hand touch it, and to make the brass shine so that the first professor's hand on the handle was the first mark of the day.

It wasn't particularly brilliant. Anybody could have done it. But I didn't do it with flippancy or silliness, but with gravity, seriousness, because it was a privilege, and they paid me for it. So it's very, very important when we think of service in the church, whether it is parking cars, cleaning, beautifying, whatever it may be, it is serious, privileged business. And nobody should undertake it without a due sense of gravitas. It all matters. Every piece of it matters. And if you're going to be a servant, then you are to be this kind of servant.

You put your stamp upon it, the stamp that is there as a result of understanding that there is no menial task in the kingdom of God. Secondly, these individuals are to be sincere. Not only are they to be serious in their outlook, but they are to be sincere in their conviction.

The word is a word which conveys consistency. They mustn't be saying one thing to one person when they meet them and then another thing to another person. Nor are they to be the kind of person who says one thing while thinking another. People should be able to know exactly where they stand with these individuals.

And you can see how great importance attached to this. If they were responsible for the distribution of food, let's say, to widows, and widows were depending on these individuals appearing at their home to bring them their meals, they don't want some flippant Charlie who may get there or may not get there, who doesn't know whether he's bringing breakfast, lunch, or dinner. They don't want somebody who says he'll be there on Monday and doesn't show up till Tuesday. The individual needs to be serious in their outlook and sincere in their words. Their yes is yes, and their no is no. Because so much of the structure of the church depends upon people saying what they mean and meaning what they say. If they're going to open the door, they open the door. If they're going to turn the lights off, they turn the lights off.

It's not left to conjecture. There are no menial tasks in serving Christ. Thirdly, sober. Sober, we saw this last time. The literal translation is, not wine too much being addicted.

Mi oi no pollo prosicontas. In other words, as Phillips paraphrases it, they should not be over-formed of wine. Their minds should not be occupied with it. They should not be devoting themselves to it. They should be, instead, Ephesians 5.18 people, who are not drunk with wine wherein is excess, but instead are filled with the Spirit.

They are those like the seven in Acts 6, who were men chosen on account of the fact that they were full of the Spirit of God and of wisdom. It makes perfect sense. You don't want to send the widow's lunch with some guy who's half-smashed down the street, do you? There's no saying where he's going to end up. He's coming down the road. Where is Mrs. So-and-so's house? Would that be a good testimony for the church? There he goes again.

Oh, I wonder if he can get down to her house today. That's a deacon of the church at such-and-such. You say, that only brings disrepute on the name of Christ. That's the point.

It's intensely practical. Fourthly, these individuals are to be satisfied individuals. In other words, they're not pursuing dishonest gain.

In other words, they are straight in their financial dealings. Now, the reason I chose the word satisfied is because when Paul addresses this, as we'll come in chapter 6 to the wider church, he makes the point that the antidote to the love of money, which is the root of all kinds of evil—1 Timothy 6.10—is said to be contentment. And the contentment is with food and clothes, verse 8.

But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that. People who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap. So it only makes sense that if you have deacons dealing with money and dealing with produce and dealing with the disbursement of funds, that you have individuals who themselves are marked by contentedness with what they have. And if they are not individuals of integrity and they have access to that stuff, then they run the real risk of doing the one for me, one for him, another one for me, and one for her. And that, of course, is what happens in churches. That is why there is such disrepute that has come on the name of Christ. Because people will not do what the Bible says. They are not men of contentedness.

They are men seeking unjust gain. I can remember when I visited as a young pastor for two years in Edinburgh, I went in some of the finest homes in Edinburgh. I was close to some of the nicest antiques that would make you colonial types drool. And most of them were old ladies.

And old ladies like young pastors. And so there was a real temptation to say, My, my, Mrs. Simpson, that's a lovely grandfather clock—nudge, nudge, wink, wink, know what I mean—so that you could be coming out of the house with grandfather clocks and old things. How did the visitation go today? Very nicely! Good day! Good day at the office! Look at this!

Look at this! And so, recognizing the potential and the proclivity of my own sinful heart, I had to set up guidelines for myself. Because I found, unwittingly initially, that if you said, for example, there's a beautiful painting at the end of the hallway, the chances are it has your name on it. Not that you got it immediately, it went in the lady's will.

And all of a sudden, you're in fifty million people's wills, you know. This is not good. Verse 9, they must keep hold of the deep truths of the faith with a clear conscience. In other words, it is wrong for us to think that the service ministries of the church are to be exercised by people who are simply good at climbing ladders or doing things like that, and provided they are functionally okay, it really doesn't matter if they're very spiritual or not.

That is the height of stupidity. Because just in the same way as the fact that there are no menial tasks within the kingdom, there are no unspiritual tasks within the kingdom. The way in which we do everything will convey that which is the very bedrock of our existence. And so says Paul, these individuals are to be men who hold the deep truths of the faith and do so with a clear conscience. The word mystery in the King James Version is not something that is unable to be apprehended by the mind of a man, but it is a reference to something that was previously hidden and which has now been revealed. And it's one of the words that Paul uses as a description of the gospel. In other words, the deacons are to be gospel men. They're to be men who understand the Bible, who are committed to the deep things of the faith, and who are able to hold true to that and to do so with a clear conscience. Again, remember, they're going in and out of the homes of different people. They're going into the homes of weak-willed women who are loaded down with sins and are swayed by all kinds of evil desires—2 Timothy 3.6—therefore, you'd better not send somebody in there who's simply good at running hosepipes. You'd better send someone in there who is holding on to the deep truths of the faith with a clear conscience. So the idea that, you know, elders are spiritual and deacons or whatever you want them to be is not a New Testament concept.

The spiritual demand is the same for both—the function differs. You're listening to Truth for Life, that is Alistair Begg explaining the clear distinction between elders and deacons, and we'll hear more about that tomorrow. So how do you listen to Truth for Life? If you're not currently listening through our mobile app, if you haven't yet downloaded it to your phone or your tablet, let me remind you that's a great way to access Truth for Life wherever you are, whenever you choose. The app not only provides a way for you to listen to the daily program at your convenience, but you'll also be able to read the daily devotional, the articles, and the blog. You can search Alistair's complete sermon library.

There's even a complete ESV Bible in the app. You can download it for free when you search for Truth for Life in your app store. One of the things we love doing here at Truth for Life is selecting books that can strengthen your confidence in the Christian faith, and today we want to encourage you to take advantage of an opportunity to ask for the book, How Christianity Transformed the World. This is a compelling book that combines insightful historical stories along with biblical references to highlight the sweeping positive influence of Christianity and Christians throughout the centuries. Request your copy of the book, How Christianity Transformed the World today when you donate to support the teaching ministry of Truth for Life. You can do that on the mobile app or on our website at truthforlife.org slash donate or call us at 888-588-7884. I'm Bob Lapine. Thanks for listening today. Can women serve as deacons? That is a topic of hot debate. Join us tomorrow to hear Alistair's answer. The Bible teaching of Alistair Begg is furnished by Truth for Life, where the Learning is for Living.
Whisper: medium.en / 2023-05-24 05:03:41 / 2023-05-24 05:12:40 / 9

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